Although minimalism found me semi-quickly between 2015-2016, I keep having these flashbacks to my younger days when I see signs of an early minimalist. It's kind of fun to look back on those quirky, mundane, or significant moments and realize maybe this recent change has been a longtime coming. Or maybe they were just me being cheap, shy, and/or lazy, but it's still nice to connect the past to the present. My minimalist flashback posts will recount the memories as they come to me, and maybe they'll spark some memories of your own, minimalist or not.
The silent rebel
When I was in high school, the yearbook featured large, color photos of all the seniors. I'm not sure how things are today, but in my suburban community in 2001, everyone had professional photos taken for their senior pics. For me, that was out of the question. My exact sentiments were, "A 'photo shoot' just of myself?! That's ridiculous, not to mention a waste of money." (There it is, me being cheap, shy and probably lazy, too.) So, my friends all got their photos taken, and they definitely came out looking good. But, I figured the people who want to remember me will remember me even without my photo there. (This could have been more powerful if Facebook hadn't appeared a few years later.) Instead, I chose a quote to put in place of my photo: "Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand." That would be a line from the Paul Newman movie Cool Hand Luke. My history teacher, who headed up the yearbook as well, called me a "silent rebel." I slowly learned to take it as a compliment.
Now, the whole situation could be considered minimalist in a way, but my mind is kind of blown by the actual quote I chose. I remember scouring Internet "quote sites" for a little longer than I'd like to admit, looking for just the right thing to put there for posterity. I wanted an Orson Welles quote, but eventually landed on this gem from Newman, thinking the "nothing" part would be kind of funny as it was filling the void where my face should be. It is possibly the exact thought of a minimalist, and I still love it for different reasons today.
I searched Orson Welles quotes just now and rediscovered my backup choices, in no particular order:
Holy cow, these (with the exception of the first one) are more relevant to me today than they were 15 years ago! (Ok, who am I kidding -- the first one kind of applies, too!)
I'm one week in on my "fashion fast" and I thought I'd have some witty anecdotes to relate, but it's been pretty much business as usual. My seven-year-old fasionista daughter hasn't mentioned anything about me wearing the same thing every day, and even complimented my boots.
On Day 3, I watched an episode of "Friends" where Rachel commented to her ex-boyfriend that he wore the same sweater a lot. Then she asked if he was involved in some sort of a dare. I was rocked back to reality for a minute with the realization that this experiment might seem bizarre to even people close to me. But, why waste time worrying about that? (If only I could convince my daughter not to worry about what other people think!)
Seven days in, there's zero thinking, I just grab my outfit and go! Loving it. A byproduct of wearing a uniform is you're not even tempted to look at clothes in the stores.
Not intentionally, I started reading an interesting book a few days ago called 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker. She tackles seven excessive things in her life, one each month: food, clothes, possessions, media, etc. In Month 2, she limited herself to seven articles of clothing (not including undergarments, but including shoes and jacket, which she went without in winter). I may be over seven items between my uniform, jacket and pajamas, but it's interesting how few clothes we can get by on. And it makes you realize that everyone on earth could have the clothes they need to get by -- a couple outfits, sturdy shoes, well-made outerwear -- if the privileged all just went through our closets and our children's closets with the goal of having "enough" instead of "an abundance." It's something I'm still trying to work on, especially with my children. My son is pretty content to wear the same few options over and over, but my daughter loves the variety. She did say to me the other day on the way to the store to look for (pre-owned) winter boots that she has "way more than enough clothes" so I am thankful that she's at least aware of her current situation.
We hear a lot about "fast fashion" -- the clothing found in shops like Forever 21 and H&M that cycle through the stores every 2 weeks, creating a never-quenched thirst in those who want to keep up with the latest looks.
I am not one of those people. By any means. Several months ago, I pared my clothes down to a reasonable capsule wardrobe, but for awhile now, I have been wondering if things could be simplified further. So, I'm flipping fast fashion and going instead for a "fashion fast." It will be an interesting experiment. And this blog post is to keep me honest!
My rules: Same basic uniform, 10 days in a row.
My uniform: Long black cotton t-shirt, blue jean leggings, brown-on-brown Sperry duck boots, and an open oatmeal sweater. (Or a sweatshirt to replace the sweater when I'm hanging at home.)
To back things up a bit, it's said that all the small choices we make each day can lead to "decision fatigue," leaving us stressed, tired and less alert when the big decisions need to be made. Mark Zuckerberg and Barack Obama are well-known examples of people who adopted signature uniforms to simplify their mornings. Not that my daily decisions in any way mirror theirs, but if these powerful individuals don't give a damn about keeping up with fashion, maybe they're on to something.
Also, I feel like if I find one outfit I feel comfortable and put-together in, I should just stop while I'm ahead.
There's also a lot more circling my mind here: I don't really want to spend my time and money shopping; I can't keep up with what's "in"; I question the amount of time and energy women versus men put into clothes for the sake of looking "stylish," and, oh yeah -- our collective fashion habits are kind of killing our planet.
Yes, this experiment definitely comes from a place of privilege -- I mainly work from home and don't need to dress beyond casual most days of my life. My jobs as a freelance writer and a mom don't require me to impress people with impeccable fashion and perfect accessories. However, I think people in more professional settings could pull off the uniform look, too. The question is, do they want to. Do you?
With Day 1 in the bag and nine days to go, I'm interested to see how this goes. Will anyone (who doesn't read this) notice? Will it be depressing to wear the same thing every day? Will my clothes just fall apart in a couple weeks? Will my neighbors start to question my well-being? Will I want to continue this on Day 11? And my biggest question of all: How long will it take my clothes-obsessed,very observant seven-year-old to say, "Mommy, can't you wear something else?"
My coffee machine of 10+ years broke a few months ago after I carelessly dropped the filter basket. Apparently, in the land of Keurigs and espresso machines, this piece is no longer easily (read: cheaply) available. My unwillingness to spend money on what boils down to a "bad habit" (caffeine treats me horribly, but that's another post) led me to simplify and ditch the coffee maker all together. (Sorry, visitors ... it's tea or water from now on!) But, sometimes I just want a hot drink with lots of cream and sugar in it -- it's the American way. On those occasions, I have two choices: buy one at the McDonalds around the corner (that'll be $2.16 a pop) or find one for free. Spending less almost always wins out with me.
It's actually pretty easy to find free coffee -- many establishments happily feed this widespread addiction. Off the top of my head, I can find free coffee at the YMCA, my bank, any hotel I happen to be staying at, and the dentist's office. Yes, you heard it here: a dentist office I went to recently had a full coffee bar setup in the waiting area. It was a head-scratching moment for me -- kind of felt like having an ice cream shop at a gym, but hey, they're just giving the people what they want. (And making money off of extra teeth whitening treatments?) I also walked into Target yesterday and was greeted by a coffee stand selling the store brand coffee. Would I like a cup? Sure would.
It's not a huge life changer, but it simplifies life just a bit: I don't have to clean the coffee maker every time I have a cup of Joe, and I don't have to spend money on it, either. And I don't get sucked into the daily caffeine loop, only to be left with withdrawals as soon as I skip a day or two.
Sometimes, (okay, actually fairly often), I hear Avril Levigne's lyrics running through my mind.
"Why'd you have to go and make things so complicated?"
Half the time, it's about other people piling things on and taking the long way; and the other half of the time, it's about myself mucking things up unnecessarily. And most of it comes in the form of procrastination, which is a whole other article for another day.
That's not so awful, to have that reminder. The other line that I keep hearing is what I struggle with:
"Lay back, it's all been done before."
I'm down with the "lay back" part; hey, that's one of the benefits of simplifying! It's the second half that keeps me from trying. Is it a good thing, the reminder to just relax? Or is it detrimental, telling myself there's no use trying, I have nothing new to offer? I tell myself it's the former, but I'm pretty sure it's the latter.
Simplifying possessions is one thing; purging those pesky defeatist thoughts is more complicated.
Who knew Avril Levigne had such staying power a decade and a half later?!
Amazon.com has been my store of choice over the past several years. The convenience factor -- shopping anytime, day or night, without children tugging at my clothes -- as well as the low prices convinced me that it wasn't such a big deal to buy online.
After awhile, though, a strange thing happened. I was getting boxes every week or two, and the thrill of getting these "gifts" in the mail kept me adding things I "needed" to my shopping cart.
Having started decluttering the house in January 2015, I began not only keeping less but buying less, as well. I thought it would be interesting to do an inventory of my past Amazon purchases.
I've never totaled this up until today. This is what I spent on myself and my family and my home on Amazon.com since 2010, the year I had my first child:
$4,999?! Let's just round up to $5,000. And here is all the stuff I didn't include in that tally:
Knowing how much I spent, I went back and looked at how much of the stuff I actually still have in my house. Not counting all the "consumable" items like shampoos, diapers, vacuum bags, etc., I only have about 50% of the items I originally thought I really needed! All that long-gone baby gear could have been bought for a fraction of the cost from garage sales. It turns out that a bamboo steamer, panini press, egg slicer, or other one-use gadget won't make me a better cook. And that $150 collector's edition of all six seasons of LOST? It didn't make the series finale any less disappointing.
If I had taken half of that spending -- $2,500 -- and invested it for seven years instead of spending it on Amazon, it would have made me more than $1,500 (assuming a 7% rate of return). Over a 25-year period at the same rate, that $2,500 could have earned over $11,000!
I say this not to make myself feel awful or to inspire guilt, but to move forward with a better appreciation of how spending habits can be more costly than we think at the time.
When simplifying and decluttering, I have had to confront my past actions with every item I've donated or sold. What's done is done, though; the lesson has been learned, and now I know for sure that life is better on the simpler side.
When I was a little kid (I say this a lot, fair warning...), birthdays were small affairs with 5 to 7 friends, usually at the birthday boy or birthday girl's home. Pizza, cake, open presents, watch a movie or play some games, see ya later. Today, it's different, at least in suburbia. Parties are held in "venues," with "staff" to help run the event. Entire classes are invited, plus neighborhood friends. That's a lot of parties for a child to attend each year. Of course, my daughter loves this set up!
When my daughter was younger, we used to spend about $25, including card and gift bag, per present for her friends' parties. Now, given the sheer volume of invitations, that seems totally unrealistic; there are plenty of quality presents young children will enjoy that cost much less.
With another friend's birthday party in the books last weekend, here are some ways I've simplified birthday gift-giving lately:
My thought is, if I'm feeling stressed about something that should be easy and fun, it needs to be simplified!
It's crazy to look back on how I went from a passive consumer to somewhat of a minimalist. It's not that the light went on immediately -- more like a constant, slow turn of the dimmer switch up, lighting more and more layers of my world and showing me just how much is "out there" and how connected it all is.
Flashback to January 2015. A Barnes & Noble marketing email popped up in my inbox featuring the latest inventory. (This was way before decluttering my inbox, of course.) As I had no books in mind to buy, I was about to hit 'delete' when my eye caught one particular title: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. Hmm. That's a big claim, I thought. And I'm kind of a skeptic. So, of course I clicked through and hit "BUY," unconscious consumer that I was. Nicely done, B&N.
Within a few weeks of finishing the book, I had touched nearly every item in my house and determined whether it sparked joy. (If you're raising an eyebrow right now, it might be because you haven't tried it.) At the time I was a bit embarrassed by the trash bags full of stuff I decided to part with, since I'd always considered myself fairly constrained when it came to making purchases. I proceeded to have my then-five-year-old daughter go through the same process: first her clothes, then her toys, then her books, then her stuffed animals. She was surprisingly willing to part with quite a few items.
The biggest takeaway at the time was that once your house is filled with only items that bring you joy (or that make your life easier), you'll always have a 'tidy' (read: clutter-free) home. I have to admit, the book title was no exaggeration. It was pure life-changing magic that set me on the path to simplicity, without me even knowing it.
From there, I bounced around to several minimalist blogs and sites, doing a few more rounds of decluttering -- each inevitably more ruthless than the last. Then, I started thinking about how hectic life felt each day raising two young children, which led me to explore simplicity parenting. Next, I examined the technology our family used, how we spent our money and time, what kind of food we ate, and how we were impacting the environment with our consumer choices. It's all intertwined. And the further I tumble down this rabbit hole, the more I see not only the personal benefits of simplicity, but the dire need for it in many aspects of society as a whole.
Well, I can't possibly end this post with such doom and gloom. Instead, I'll end with a challenge: locate your nearest reputable donation center that accepts clothing, toys, and household items. If you take any of this or future simplicity talk to heart, you'll soon be making many trips there.
A lot has been written about simplicity, decluttering, minimalism, essentialism, and related topics. I'm totally sold on this way of life, after seeing the benefits firsthand -- so much so that I hope my observations and experiences (as well as my struggles and questions) will inspire others to look into these topics as well. Hence, this blog!
In researching wills a few years ago, I read that some people leave behind letters to their children that express their own values, hopes, and life lessons learned. I never was one to sit down and write in a journal, but I feel like this topic would be a good place to start. So, if nothing else, this blog is the beginning of the letter to my young children, explaining why we live the way we do, what we value, and how to take a stand against an illogical status quo.
Those are the "whys". Away we go!